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How To Wear Black Without Looking Bland

Jason Lloyd Evans

Black is generally considered to be the failsafe option in our wardrobes, the can’t-go-wrong old reliable, the wear-with-anything staple, the easy but elegant alternative to colour. But really, it requires jut as much effort to make head-to-toe black stand out as it does to balance vibrant colour. This is why so many of us wind up looking indistinct rather than effortlessly chic when we choose Coco Chanel’s favourite shade. Rather than the “perfect harmony” as Chanel described it, black has become our default, a day-to-day uniform for those times when we don’t want to think too much about what we’re wearing. Hence its association with the other B word – bland.

There are just a few simple rules to remember when considering head-to-toe black, the first of which is texture. This is so important I want to write the word texture in caps, but I’m not a shouty person so I won’t. But texture is the sartorial key to unlocking the secret of making this colour sing. Mixing materials allows each element of your outfit to stand out in its own right. Imagine combining a lace dress with leather leggings and a cashmere cardigan. How much more visually interesting is that than a black cotton top and matching skirt?

Wearing black head-to-toe means mixing up textures so your outfit doesn’t look bland. This sequinned top is completely distinct from the black trousers beneath and adds real interest to the look.

There are always days when all we want to wear is a pair of black jeans and a sweater, but you can make these two unassuming items look like they were made for each other by choosing pieces with texture. Go for slightly distressed denims rather than a matte effect (Avoid rips at the knees. This seems to be the signature style of every teenager in the country right now.) or a pair with fringing such as the Zara denims below, which I love.

Slim boyfriend jeans, €49.95 at Zara

Loose weave knits are a great way to embrace texture, or jacquard tops. This embroidered sweater, below, from uterque.com has far more personality than a plain tee and will bring head-to-toe black to life. The only texture I tend to approach with caution is chiffon. It can just look too funereal.

Embroidered sweater, €125 at uterque.com

Silhouette is your next concern. Avoid anything too floaty or tent-like as this one dense colour block can look shapeless and drab. Take advantage of its slimming effect and choose a neat silhouette, not tight, but neat. This suit, below, looks sharp, but has a lovely languid fit that that creates a relaxed vibe. Nothing about this outfit overwhelms its wearer, not the fit or the colour block.

Similarly, this coat could easily look shapeless and drab, but adding a statement belt has introduced more texture and defined the wearer’s silhouette beautifully. You can get away with chunkier fabrics such as thick wools and faux fur because of the slimming, lengthening effect of black.

Finally, add one pop of colour, be it a statement red lip or a vibrant shoe. This kind of attention to detail always pulls a look together, even if on a saturday morning you’re sporting the only two items not lying on your bedroom floor after the chaos of the working week.

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PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 05:  May Berthelot is wearing a Zara blue denim overall, a Courreges top, Valentino Tango shoes, a Chanel blue bag, during Parsi Fashion Week Spring Summer 2017, on October 5, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Edward Berthelot/Getty Images)
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